REAL ID a Real Fiscal Nightmare

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

Newly obtained documents reveal Washington state officials are concerned that the new federal REAL ID Act will require extensive changes to existing practices at the Department of Licensing (DOL) and will carry heavy expenses to be borne by state taxpayers and license applicants. The DOL estimates that implementing the law will cost $250 million over the next three biennia and will necessitate an additional $25 fee for all residents seeking to obtain or renew driver’s licenses, as well as expenditures from the state’s general fund.

“REAL ID will be a real disaster and needs to be revisited by Congress,” said Kathleen Taylor, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. “These documents indicate that Washington officials – the people actually responsible for carrying out this ill-conceived law – have serious problems with REAL ID.”

The act, passed by Congress last spring, imposes federal regulations on the design, issuance and management of state driver’s licenses – turning them, for all practical purposes, into federal identity papers.

The documents are part of a national survey of state motor vehicle officials’ views and preparation for complying with REAL ID that was conducted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). The documents were first reported today by the Associated Press. A copy of Washington’s response to the survey was obtained by the ACLU.

In the survey, Washington officials stated that REAL ID will “greatly increase the cost of licensure.” They estimate that implementation will require 500 employees, the relocation of 10 licensing offices, new equipment to scan documents, and a $1.5 million media program.

“State officials are right to be concerned,” said Doug Klunder, Director of the ACLU of Washington’s Privacy Project. “REAL ID not only means a national ID, but it will mean higher taxes and fees, longer lines, repeat visits to government offices, bureaucratic snafus, and, for a lot of people, the inability to obtain a license. To top it off, it will do little if anything to prevent terrorism.”

A Joint Memorial (HJM 4029) was introduced in the Washington Legislature with bipartisan sponsors this week calling for Congress to repeal REAL Id. Representative Toby Nixon (R-45th District), the measure’s sponsor, said, “The purpose of the driver’s license is to ensure highway safety, not to act as a national ID card. The federal government should not dictate how Washington must issue driver’s licenses to our own state citizens.”

A second measure (HB 2787) before the Legislature would protect privacy by barring the use of machine-readable personal information on driver’s licenses for purposes other than verification.

REAL ID has drawn opposition from organizations across the political spectrum, including the American Bar Association, the American Conservative Union, the Council of State Governments, Gun Owners of America, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, and the National Taxpayers Union.

“Congress needs to do this right and actually hold hearings, listen to all the different interests and real-world practical difficulties, and give it an up-or-down vote, none of which happened when it was rammed through last spring,” said the ACLU’s Doug Klunder. “People in Washington need to join with others around the country and help block this disastrous law before it’s too late.”

Washington’s response to the AAMVA survey along with other information about REAL ID is online at